Arachnophobes, steer clear. Chuck Wendig’s latest novel, Invasive, is filled with enough creepy crawlers to fuel a year’s worth of nightmares. It all starts on an island where scientists have created genetically engineered ants. FBI futurist Hannah Stander believes the ants are responsible for the dead body she found in an abandoned cabin and starts to investigate. As the novel shows, Wendig is a big fan of deadly creatures in literature. Here, he shares his five favorite novels featuring animals you’d never want to come across.
Jurassic Park and Jaws
Including these two together is unfair to the majesty of each, but both are such classics and such obvious choices that I hate to exclude them as much as I hate to have them take up any spots on this list—because, duh, of course GIANT SHARK and VELOCIRAPTORS make for exciting creature-feature fiction. (One thing to note, particularly in regards to Jurassic Park: Though the film is its own masterpiece, the book is bigger, smarter, and occasionally weirder, and it ramps up the intelligence and pack-to-tribe nature of the Velociraptors.)
The creature in this feature is much smaller than all the others but no less impactful. In this one, mankind lives willfully with a designer parasite inside the human body, and the parasite confers all manner of benefits to the host. But eventually, the parasite… well, let’s just say it decides that it’s getting the raw end of the deal and it wants more from this relationship. Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) is a nightmare factory, and it is glorious.
Something is in the woods. So, of course, it’s a good time to hunker down in a cabin and get trapped by a snowstorm just in time for horrible, nameless monsters to come out of the darkness to start picking off people one at a time. It’s a classic set-up, but Ania Ahlborn elevates it with complicated characters and the quality of her prose.
I hesitate to include this here because of potential spoilers, but I’ll say this: The Fold takes a little while to become a creature feature. At first, it’s an unsettling thriller about a group of scientists who have figured out how to teleport matter from one place to another, but actually, they don’t know how they figured it out. Eventually, they discover the truth behind their teleportation—and, well, let’s just say certain horrific creatures from some other world decide to, um, investigate. It is awesome. It is twisty. It is creaturey.
Basic gist? Hell is real. It is not mythological. It is not mythic. Beneath the Earth’s mantle is a subterranean realm of other creatures, and they are smart, and they are hungry. So of course the best thing to do is to send an expedition to go find them. Jeff Long makes this story properly claustrophobic, and his expertise in spelunking lends the book a level of realism. (Note: Despite sounding the same, this predates the movie, The Descent, and has nothing to do with it. Think of this book as the Crichton-esque thriller version of that film.)
World on the brink of madness? Sure. Ancient evil awakening in the form of terrifying spiders? Even better. This novel does a great job balancing the exciting thriller aspects with the skin-crawling horror.
Chuck Wendig is the author of the Miriam Black thrillers (which begin with Blackbirds) and numerous other works across books, comics, games, and more. A finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the cowriter of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus, he is also known for his popular blog, terribleminds.com. He lives in Pennsylvania with his family.